Have you ever felt small? As the youngest of five siblings, I often did. Dinner table conversations were loud, and the only way to be heard was to raise your voice. In the midst of this chaos, I felt unheard and insignificant. When I married into a quieter family, my habit of quick corrections and contradictions unintentionally made my wife feel the same way. Intentions are internal and private, and others experience our behavior without that context.
Recently, I witnessed my daughter’s power to uplift others through active listening and encouraging words. A smart eight-year-old girl held the attention of my 17-year-old daughter for nearly an hour. Initially tentative, by the end of their conversation, the younger girl’s face was glowing. It made me hopeful for a kinder next generation.
When someone we admire listens to us and values our ideas, we feel encouraged to keep growing and learning. We expand. But when others correct us, talk down to us, or disregard us, we shrink into ourselves. Our vision becomes unclear, and we often give up on our dreams.
“Stay away from those people who try to disparage your ambitions. Small minds will always do that, but great minds will give you a feeling that you can become great too.”
— Mark Twain
We should heed the advice of Mark Twain to limit the access and influence of those who demean us. Here are three reasons why:
1. Dreams Are Fragile
Dreams are like images that come to us in deep sleep. They can be clear, sometimes even forming a narrative with characters and dialog. But no matter how they come, they disappear when we awaken. This is perhaps why Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I have a dream” rather than “I have an aspiration.”
Our dreams for a better tomorrow form our legacy, and we should protect them from those who cause us to doubt ourselves and the value of our dreams.
2. Courage Is Scarce
Dreams become reality when we step out of our comfort zone. This can be frightening, especially if we lack self-confidence. “What will others think of me if I fail?” we wonder. If our social circle is judgmental and skeptical, it becomes nearly impossible to try new things.
To counter this, we need a supportive community. Thankfully, there are many online communities and local meetups that exist to champion the dreams of others.
3. The Time is Short
Lately, I’ve been reflecting on the fleeting nature of life. Perhaps it’s a side-effect of reaching mid-life. Regardless, it’s a reminder that our time is not unlimited. We must not delay our dreams for a day when we feel ready. Instead, we must take determined action, even when we know we will make mistakes.
In her 1938 memoir, elocutionist Gay Zenola MacLaren recounted how Mark Twain encouraged her as a child. It seems that the words he spoke to her as she left a party gave her courage. She ignored those who misunderstood and diminished her and went on to be great in her unique way. Without champions to reassure us of our potential, many of us will fall short of living a life of impact.
I hope this convinces you to ignore the naysayers and take a step towards your dreams today. More importantly, I hope you’ll offer a kind word and helping hand to those following in your steps. You matter, and you can enable dreams, provide courage, and encourage others to start their journey towards a better life today.
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